In order to better address disability on campus, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Student Advisory Board was established at the beginning of this semester. Under the leadership of Director of Accommodations Lisa Peterson, seven students are striving to educate Bowdoin on accessibility and bridge the gap between faculty and students on disability and accommodations. 

 “I think that sometimes in higher ed settings there can be a tendency to be doing for and not with students,” said Peterson.  “So I thought this was a great opportunity to have students be leading the charge.”

One of the ways the Board hopes to achieve its goals is by appointing professor liaisons to each department. These professor liaisons would undergo a training session with Peterson and student members of the Board on how to help other professors in their department handle accommodation requests. That way, when a student asks for accommodations, the professor has a colleague that can walk them through the process of providing help to students with disabilities.

 A major part of Peterson’s current position as director of accommodations involves ensuring there is a clear process for students to request accommodations and checking in on such accommodations.  

Peterson also hopes to address how members of the Bowdoin community think about disability and accommodations on campus.

 “This student advisory board was a way for me to make sure I’m having the widest reach possible and able to have a lot of talented voices in the conversation about campus climate,” Peterson said.

Peterson hopes to promote what is called the social model of disability, which holds that disability is caused by the ways society functions and not by individual impairments of disabled people.

“The social model is about thinking through what the things in our environment are that we haven’t thought about in a critical way, or might haven’t thought about in a critical way, that could be presenting barriers for students,” she said.

Zoe Borenstein ’18, a leader on the Board, said that professors are often unsure how to handle students’ accommodations requests and go directly to Peterson. She believes that having a liaison for each department will improve the accommodations request process.

“Lisa [Peterson] has so much stuff to do and so many roles, and we think that it would be so much easier for [professors] to have someone in their department to help,” she said.

Borenstein said that the Board aims to organize and focus the work being done by the various separate groups advocating for recognition of students with disabilities on campus. She pointed out that just a few years ago, there was relatively little discussion of these issues on campus.

“Now we have all this stuff happening, and we’re starting to realize that we have to kind of sort things out a little bit more because there aren’t really clear definitions of what particular groups are doing differently from the others,” she said.

She added that student organizations focused on issues of disability have largely emphasized outreach to other students. She hopes that the Student Advisory Board will be more successful in bringing administrators and faculty into the conversation.